Do the Guards Read Your Mail in Federal Prisons?

Do the Guards Read Your Mail in Federal Prisons?

Yes. Prison officials do read prisoner mail in federal and state prisons. While this doesn’t mean that guards will read prisoner mail, someone at the prison can and often will. It is very important that you and your loved ones keep this in mind. Prison staff or other government officials may read anything you put in writing.

Will prison guards read prisoner mail?

Yes. Prison officials, and sometimes even prosecutors, read the mail for incarcerated people all the time. The Bureau of Prisons encourages incarcerated people to “[s]tay in touch” with their friends and family. In fact, the BOP helps people in prison make and receive phone calls. They also allow you to send and receive e-mails, regular mail, packages and even money. Prisons also permit in-person visits. They even talk about studies showing how good keeping relationships is.

However, the BOP is not as open about what they do with these items on the “[s]tay in touch” page. In other, harder to find and harder to read policies, the BOP admits what they do. “The Bureau has the authority to open, read, and inspect general correspondence prior to inmate access,” one policy states.

Prison staff read mail at random. The BOP says that random reading helps find plans to commit crimes. They also say it helps predict problems with some incarcerated people.

The BOP also says it will treat private information sensitively. But the reality is that staff and reading it. And, if they believe it poses safety concerns, they can also share it with their supervisors, coworkers and others. In fact, in some situations, prison officials can even reject or keep mail for safety purposes. This means you may never see your loved ones’ letters.

Guards in federal prison will read your mail.
Image courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash.

Is there any mail that officials can’t read?

While prison officials read most mail, there are some types of mail they don’t read. Prison staff also has to follow specific rules when they look at “special mail,” too. Special mail comes from judges, senators or representatives, governors or presidents. It can also come from other government officials. For this kind of mail, prison staff should stop reading it as soon as they see who it is from.

Prison staff also can’t read mail to and from an incarcerated person’s lawyer. These attorney-client communications should have a warning. BOP policy requires this label: “Special Mail — Open Only in the Presence of the Inmate.” Your letters to and from your attorney have privacy under the “attorney-client privilege.” This means that only you and your lawyer can know what is in them.

It is very important that you or your lawyer include that statement. The BOP will not look for other things such as an attorney designating themselves as “Esq.,” “Esquire” or something else. If more information about your attorney is on the letter, the BOP might not read it. But include the “Special Mail — Open Only in the Presence of the Inmate” is best.

The Takeaway:

While guards themselves might not read your mail, prison staff absolutely will read prisoner mail. This means everything you say and everything people say to you can be used against you. The only exception is for “special mail,” but even that system isn’t perfect. It is important to be careful what you say in your mail while in prison.

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